There are a number of mapping programs and resources available for those that want to create their own maps.
No matter what software you end up using, or even if you decide to go with hand-drawn, pen-and-paper maps, you will want to visit the Cartographer’s Guild. They are a wonderful community of cartographers that create maps of all sorts, in every style imaginable. If you have any sort of question related to mapmaking, the folks there are always happy to help out.
Cecil Solomon’s Ultimate Art Collection (CSUAC)
The CSUAC is a collection of many thousands of images useful to mapmakers. Most of the images originated on the Dundjinni forums but they are in standard image formats usable by any graphics program. Fortunately, the caretaker of this collection has organized the images into categories and even put together the overhead files needed to easily add them as a library into a number of standard mapping programs. This set is a must have for anyone serious about making maps.
As I mentioned, the CSUAC grew primarily out of images from the Dundjinni forums. Dundjinni is a java-based, map-making program. It is probably the easiest to learn yet still quite powerful. Map size is fairly limited though. It isn’t designed to create continents or even large areas. However, it excels at creating encounter size maps.
Unfortunately, Dundjinni appears to be a dead product. No development has taken place in years and, to my knowledge, none is planned. However, it works great as is and all indication is that the product will continue on and the support forums will continue to be an invaluable resource (even for those using other products).
At $39.95, this software is a solid requirement for anyone planning on creating encounter maps. My only complaint is that the images that come with the program, as well as those in the Art Packs, are in a proprietary format and are covered by an unusual licensing agreement. That makes the Art Packs and core images absolutely worthless to me. However, the user-created images posted on their forums, as well as the CSUAC, more than fill the gap, making this the best software around for this particular purpose.
ProFantasy’s Campaign Cartographer has been the defacto standard in fantasy map-making for decades. At its core, it is a CAD engine. But much of the CAD interface has been softened with more intuitive commands and macros in order to make it more accessible to everyone. But the standard CAD interface is still there as well. Because of this, the average person can pick it up fairly quickly and do everything they want to do with simple, easily to understand commands. But CAD people can bypass the handholding and work more quickly with the standard commands that they are used to.
Regardless which interface you enjoy using, ProFantasy has added considerable features to customize their software for cartography.
You can easily create world maps, continent maps, regional maps, encounter maps, city maps, and dungeon maps. There is an extensive library of images that can be added to any map. Plus the user-created art on the Dundjinni forums, and the CSUAC, work wonderfully here.
In addition to the core program, there are add-ons that specialize in city map creation and dungeon map creation. You can make either type of map in the core program. But the add-ons incorporate a number of features that significantly enhance what you can do and have various commands that tremendously speed up the process.
The core program is $44.95 and both add-ons are $39.95 each. For what you are getting, that’s a steal!
NBOS Software’s Fractal Mapper is another standard cartography program. It sells for $39.95 putting it in line with the other two.
I have only used it briefly and that was some time ago so I can’t say too much about it other than to say that it is very similar to Campaign Cartographer. It is a well respected software package and I’ve often heard it said that Fractal Mapper and Campaign Cartographer complement each other well; they both have strengths and weaknesses and where one lacks the other shines.
I would recommend to anyone who is serious about mapping to get all of the above and learn which application to use for each piece of the mapping process.
No matter what program you use to create your maps, there are some things that you just can’t do without a high-end image editing package. And when you are talking about image editing, Adobe Photoshop sets the bar. The newest version, CS5, sells for up to $699.00 putting it out of reach for most people. However, I use a ten year old version that works just fine. Look around and you should be able to find a deal on one version of another.
Jasc’s Paintshop Pro was a wonderful program and a viable alternative to Adobe’s Photoshop. Sadly, Corel bought it. I have not looked at it since but I would hope that it is still a respectable program. The current version, Paintshop Pro X3, sells for $89.99, making it at least worth looking into.
GNU Image Manipulation Program (G.I.M.P.) is free. It does much of what you can do in Adobe Photoshop. It’s been around for a while and is a stable, well-known, respected product. Well worth looking into, either in place of or in addition to another image editing program.
I realize that this is a very superficial look at what’s out there but I think it is a good overview of the basics. Cartographer’s Guild forums are a must! As is the CSUAC. Beyond that there are lots of alternatives but the software described above are the standard ones that most people use.
Personally, I use Photoshop, G.I.M.P., AutoCAD, Dundjinni, Campaign Cartographer, Dungeon Designer, and City Designer. When time permits, I hope to start creating encounter maps for download as well as some map-mapping tutorials. Unfortunately, there always seems to be a ton of other projects that need doing first so no promises on when I’ll get around to them.